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Children Must Learn, The

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Children Must Learn, The

Published 1940

Educating the children of Appalachia. Director: Willard Van Dyke. Script: Spencer Pollard. Photography: Bob Churchill. Narration: Myron McCormick. Editor: Irving Lerner. Music: Fred Stewart.

Run time 12:34
Producer Educational Film Institute of New York University and Documentary Film Productions, Inc.
Sponsor Sloan (Alfred P.) Foundation
Audio/Visual Sd, B&W


"This film is an authentic record of real people, living their usual lives. It documents one of several experiments carried on by various state universities -- experiments sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Inc. -- to discover what schools can do to raise the level of living in the communities they serve."
Slow moving and sad film which makes the case for education which will improve people's lives directly. Makes the case that people shown in the film need to be instructed in how to farm correctly and what to plant so that they may eat better.
Story of mountain people who have farms which are not bountiful. Much mournful music. Shows life in a poor family living in a small wooden house. Wall covered with newspapers to keep out drafts. The pregnant mother prepares corn pone cooked in pork grease and pieces of pork for breakfast. Narrator explains that these children don't get enough and the right things to eat.
The house has signs over the doorways like "We are Thankful". Voiceover about the irrelevance of school books to the lives of these poor farm children. "The sons of the sons of the men who clear it [the land] still plant the corn from the same old seeds.. . their lives set in old patterns, in worn-out grooves, new ideas are not easy to come by when learning passes from mouth to mouth, from father to son."
"Corn and pork, corn pone and pork sausage and pork gravy. The hog slaughtered in the fall must last the winter. The hog provides the meat for the sausage and the grease for the gravy. Often there isn't enough to eat, never the right things to eat. No green vegetables and milk; no calcium for teeth and bones; no vitamins to prevent rickets, scurvy. Weak bones from poor food; poor food from poor land. Kids growing up to the same years of hunger; babies being born without a chance of strong bodies. These are good people, proud people. Sons and daughters of pioneers, cousins of the people who built America."
"They use the same books that all the other children in the state use, the same books as the children use in mining towns, in mill towns, and in great industrial centers. Some of them are good books. But they talk about another kind of world. The books do not tell of how to rotate crops and what makes balanced farming. They do not name the way lessons can be applied to the mountain people."
"Next year, the children will study materials prepared in their own communities to teach them facts about soil and food along with reading and writing. . . .The children must learn a new way. The land is tired of corn, but small plots of it could be enriched for raising vegetables. Children must learn to raise goats for milk. They must learn to reforest the hills. It's too late now for the old ones. The children must learn."

Snowy scenes; good sequence man chopping wood; gravestone "Charley Lynch"; graveyard covered by snow; man bringing wood into house and stoking stove; Children sleeping under quilts; sweeping; feeding chickens; Old people sitting in rockers on porches; children crying; children being dressed; Children being taught in one room schoolhouse. They warm their feet in the fire. Some are shabbily dressed.

Danger Lurks safety


Reviewer: Baldwins2 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 8, 2012
Subject: Conditioning
This video seems very much as if it is directed at the "country" audience of the time. It appears to be attempting to condition the audience to feel as though the situation these children are in is un favorable, that they should depend more on loans from banks and wages from employers to ensure a good life. This video is a training video for the modern economic system. It is designed to obtain laborers. Maybe?
Reviewer: roncox - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 8, 2011
Subject: My sister and her family
This film is of my sister Nellie and her family. Mr. and Mrs. Marion Lynch with their children, Norma Doris, Winnona and Harold D.. The couple on the porch is Marion's parents Dudley P. and Mary Lynch. This is the Lynchtown School at Drip Rock KY.
Reviewer: juanita lynch - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 5, 2011
Subject: My Family
Despite the economic hardships of the era in which they lived, my parents, Marion and Nellie Lynch were hard working, honest people who always had a sense of dignity and pride which they passed on to all their children. This documentary is very special and I am so thankful to have them as my parents. Thank you to all who have made this possible.
Reviewer: bestpbx - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 6, 2009
Subject: MIxed messages?
This was a very interesting, though too short, documentary.
It is interesting to note that even though the people in the home were shown to be very needy by "modern" standard, they still were thankful and even had signs up in their home stating the fact.
The fact that the education needed to be more geared to those who were trying to learn is important.
As far as the attitudeof the film being "condecending" toward the people it displays, it seemed to show a need for helping the people to be more self sufficient instead of the other way around.

We all know that there are just as many happy people living in shacks as there are people living in mansions. And, which environment produces children that grow up to be responsible and caring adults? My guess would be the shack.
Reviewer: Jow - favoritefavorite - July 11, 2008
Subject: outsider's point of view
The film is interesting. The comments are risible. I'm not sure y'all actually watched the film. what is the point of denying poverty during wartime Appalachia? In addition, the film states that the education being promoted is local education, taught by locals, on topics that assist local needs in farming. the farming method (possibly new at the time) being promoted is crop rotation. There's not a bias that the land is 'worn out,' but an emphasis on education that improves farming. Repetitive farming is common now because of new fertilizers and equipment.

I agree, it is shot with little of the perspective or input of the local populace, but hardly demeaning or out of ordinary for that time period. I agree with review no. one, the rote teaching method was outdated and the film was trying to promote a new approach I'm sure faulty to the degree that it did not include local involvement. I do wonder if the scenes in the home were actually shot in a studio, though.
Reviewer: ERD - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 15, 2006
Subject: "Children Must Learn" effective for 1940
I found that this 1940 documentary was trying to show that the educational material used at that time was not in touch or relating to the needs of those children in the rural mountain area in 1940.It was obvious a change was needed.
Reviewer: Jalilidalili - favoritefavoritefavorite - August 8, 2006
Subject: From the outsider's point of view...
To me this movie presents another sociological aspect, that hasn't been covered yet. It's the begining of the "consumer life style". These people are considered poor, because they haven't the actual cash, and they haven't up-to-date household luxorious that the higher middle class in the city had.

So if you haven't the newest stove and a pile of cash or stocks you're poor.

This mentality (not started, but clearly reflected in this film) started putting preasure on the people to show of with status symbols to proove they're not poor.

Also it would be incomprehancable for the people in the city to understand how these poor (without a great amount of cash) people could aford things like daily milk. The people in the city are simply used to buying milk at a certain expense. They wouldn't understand that on a family farm you wouldn't have to buy milk, eggs, meat... because you'd have it. You'd in fact be the one who's selling and making a profit out of it, not spending money to have it.

And I still don't know why, but poverty also got measured by the amount of phisical labour (especially hard labour on the land or with animals) a person has to do. The more you work (phisically) - the poorer you are. It's just a wrong way of thinking, but that's how people thought and that's what created the society we know today: people showing off, to prove they're not poor, people thinking that if you have to work hard you're poor, and people not understanding an independant lifestyle (where you can actually provide for yourself and not buy everything from a store).
Reviewer: Goodtime Charlie - favoritefavoritefavorite - June 7, 2006
Subject: typical anti-rural attitude
This film is so typical of the education establishment's disdain for anything rural. This was clearly part of the propaganda produced by "professional educators" who were lobbying to consolidate rural schools with the intention of remaking the one room school into copies of the urban school model.

I'm currently working on a documentary on this very subject. I've been doing research on this for a long time. This is obviously an attempt to put down rural education and establish centralized control of schools removing the control of local schools from local school boards and placing control in the hands of "professional educators".

This film was a gold mine for me and my project. It's the perfect example of the "if it's small it must be bad" attitude. Rural families thrived around their local schools which they used for the center of their culture. They were not backwards people and they weren't all that poor either. Compared to commercial centers they might have been poor but the idea that they didn't eat well is just ridiculous. Every family had a milk cow yet this film implies that they suffered from a lack of milk.

Not only am I working on this project but I grew up in a family much like this one. I worked on the family farm where we grew almost everything we ate. And we ate 100 times better than people eat now. My grandmother had a college degree in horticulture. Everyone we knew had a great knowledge of agriculture. In fact it was modern agriculture that really ended that life because mechanized farms made it unprofitable to raise food with the old style of manual labor on a family farm. Yes these people moved to cities to get jobs to a large extent. But they lived a full existence in their rural culture.
Reviewer: TVDad Jim - favoritefavoritefavorite - March 23, 2006
Subject: Good view of 30's-40's paternalism
An excellent view of the early promotion of anti-ruralism from the 30's and 40's. Viewing these stilted images of KY explains quite a bit of how the wholesale removal of mountain communites was sold to the American public to make way for land projects like TVA and the Shenandoah National Park.
Reviewer: WolfMansDad - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 28, 2005
Subject: Not really poor
These people lived better than most of my neighbors do today! I live in Southern California, in a community made up mostly of immigrants from Mexico, India, and Asia. These supposedly poor people in rural Appalachia had things that modern low-income Californians can only dream of. A single-family house with only one family in it, and presumably owned by that family? Even small houses here start at half a million dollars. Public schools with textbooks and supplies? Not around here. The kids in this movie could obviously read. Many of the students here are illiterate even in their native languages. Meat for breakfast every morning? We could probably do that today, though most people don't. The little boy getting dressed in front of the wood stove didn't look malnourished. The children of my Indian neighbors are a lot thinner than that.

Compared with families in rural Mexico, Russia, or India even today, this Appalachian family lived very well. One reviewer suggested communist influences in this film, which would explain the distortion of reality here. Convince the working classes that they are poor, even if they are not, and they might sign up for The Revolution.

The film by itself would only deserve one star, but I'm giving it four as a study in propaganda and distortion.

One other thing. The film advocates teaching the children different farming methods to rise above their supposed poverty. However, these children would have reached maturity around 1950, and in the post-war economy, the family farm was rapidly becoming economically untenable. These children almost certainly grew up and moved to town to find jobs. The modern farming methods pushed by this film would have been worthless to them. The education in basic literacy and mathematical competency dismissed by the film was what they needed after all.
Reviewer: cowtimes - favorite - April 23, 2005
Subject: not true
This film shows how others got their idea of what Appalachia is like. Yes there are a few that did live like that, although I seriously doubt they had the nice little signs over each doorway as depicted!

My family has always lived in the area and I love it. Our land is not "worn out" now in 2005 and certainly was not then. My mother grew up here during the depression and she told me they did not know they would have been considered poor by outsiders. They always had plenty to eat,a warm house, nice clothing that my grandmother made for them.My grandfather was a farmer and they grew everything they needed except coffee. I have some of his books on farming so he did not need the goverment to teach him proper farming principles. Yes it was a rural way of life but not the propaganda spread in this film.Crops still consist of tobacco, corn, various grains and of course vegtables. She and her sisters grew up to be teachers and nurses.

Contrast the above to how folks who lived in cities fared during the 30's.

This stuff is so staged it's outrageous.
Reviewer: BillP - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 13, 2004
Subject: A. P. Sloan Foundation
I discovered this clip while browsing the archives, downloaded it, and showed it to my father, age 90 (And still sharp!). Both he and my mother were educators in eastern Kentucky and both, but particularly my mother, wrote several of these booklets while working at the Sloan Foundation at the University of Kentucky in the early 1940's. Books primarily dealt with raising food and proper nutrition in this early educational experiment of making education more relevant. Dad did not recognize any specific shots in the film but certainly identified with many of the images ... many objects of the one room school, newspaper wall paper, sausage and biscuit lunches (but they put theirs in a lard can), the particular heating stove, etc. While he acknowledged that the images depicted did not represent the norm, he acknowledged that these were indeed the living conditions of many in rural eastern Kentucky at the time. The one room school shots were possibly from McCreary County, Ky.
Reviewer: Tadghe - favoritefavoritefavorite - February 15, 2004
Subject: Dear heavens, this is interesting, but condescending
Ok, now IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm SURE IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve got more than a little bias, growing up the child of a family not terribly different from the one pictured in the movie, but IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve got to say this is one of the most condescending docu-dribbles IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂve watched in a while. It was pretty interesting, in that I can look at what APS was pitching back when this was produced and, frankly, from a first person perspective, observe just how badly it failed. I camera work was VERY good, and I have to agree with another reviewer that the soundtrack is pretty amazing for something so dated. The shots of the kidÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs wallpaper was interesting, IÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂm not sure if it was intended as one reviewer put it to show the family ignoring the ideas that could help them, or it was meant to show that they were trying to instill such ideas into their kids. The shots of the kids slickers and socks was very well thought out, although I was curious in that they did not point out any of the differences (Note how one kid has nice knee-high slickers on while the kid next to him has worn out S&R boots with holes in the socks). I thought it interesting that a lot of effort was put into making sure that the viewer knew just how much the parents cared for their kids, since it frankly had little to do with APSÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂs message. I would be curious to know what community this was shot in.
Reviewer: mjwise - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 14, 2004
Subject: Absolutely fascinating...
"Often there isn't enough to eat...never the right things to eat..."

This is an absolute gem here. It's ostensibly promoting a new educational program for the appalachian regions of Kentucky circa 1940, but it's far more than that. You get beautifully shot montages of life in the area, selective and effective narration, and there's even an acoustic bluegrass-esque soundtrack that's surprisingly well done for this time period. However, for all that beauty, it's very much a sad presentation of the life they struggled to lead. The only lightness in the entire film comes in the dressing of the small boy which I found fairly amusing. My favorite sequence runs from about 2:10 to 3:00, with excellent direction and music. I must confess I don't see any communist overtones in this film. Even though the production type is there, that message isn't, in my opinion.

Easily a must-see film.
Reviewer: AliceTeeple - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 22, 2003
Subject: soviet influence
I definitely agree with the reviewer who said the filmmaker must have watched a lot of Eisenstein. This is a beautifully-filmed propaganda movie, which would have made a lot of sense back in 1940, when people actually still farmed. Especially arresting are the closeups of the torn clothing, and the contrast of the "useless" essay the girl is reading about how to be prosperous. Very memorable film.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 29, 2003
Subject: Oh, Willie, What Do You Want for Your Breakfast?
This 40s film presents the educational problems of the children of the Appalachian mountain people, and advocates for these children being taught better farming methods within a curriculum that is more relevant to their world than the standard one. The film contains realistic scenes of children at home in their mountain cabins waking up, getting dressed for school, eating a breakfast of cornpone, sausage, and greasy gravy, and walking long distances to a one-room schoolhouse that looks like an artifact of the 19th century. The soundtrack music consists of authentic mountain people folksongs. The film ends up unresolved, as we donÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂÃÂt find out if the new educational program was very helpful or effective. But the film does give us a fascinating snapshot of rural Appalachian life as it was lived in the 40s, as well as projecting a stark, strange mood.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Reviewer: dynayellow - favoritefavoritefavorite - September 4, 2003
Subject: Oh Cabbage, where art thou?
Kinda depressing look at the life of the mountain people, and how both lack of education and bad education has held them back. Heavy on the negatives, the film only reveals in the last few minutes that new techniques are being used to teach the children about crop rotation and nutrition but(!) it's too late for the old ones. Yikes.

Bonus points: Disquieting shots of the catalogs and pamplets which could be helping them being used as wallpaper; also, the slogans/commandments written over every doorway and window, at least half of which are "Smile."
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 27, 2003
Subject: Mmmhmm mmhmmmm mmmhmmm.....
An absolute FIND on this site, The Children Must Learn is an "authentic record" of the education of the children of the Appalchians. Shot in total montage style (the director must've watched a lot of Eisenstein) the film offers beautiful tableus and unbelievable imagery. Not really too sure of the film's main point (Children must learn education to toil the land rather then thrifty things) comes too clear, though. With the whole shooting style, and it's message, it's hard not to think this is somewhat of a Communist recruitment film. (insert your own redneck joke here)
Of particular interest is the music, which is sort of acapella bluegrass, with the odd guitar thrown in at occasional points. It can either be grating or fascinating (or both) to listen to.

A MUST see on this site, I was caught totally off guard.
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